Meredith Berman Ellis ’04 was recently interviewed for “Bones Talk” on the daily radio program, “The Pulse of the Planet.” Ellis, who is currently an anthropology graduate fellow in the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, spoke about analysis of skeletal remains.
Ellis earned a B.A. in English and anthropology summa cum laude from William Smith. Graduating with Honors, she was also a member of Hai Timia and participated in Thel as a student.
The transcript of the interview follows. Audio can be heard online.
Bones Talk: The Pulse of the Planet
Airdate: Sep 20, 2010
Scientist: Meredith Ellis
JM: Bones can speak to us, if you know how to listen to them. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Bio-archaeologists like Syracuse University’s Meredith Ellis can discover a lot about generations past by examining collections of old bones.
ME: We can reconstruct what life was like in the 1800s, in the 1500s, thousands of years ago, how people lived, how they dealt with things that happened to them, what their culture was like, just from looking at their bodies. Let’s say we’re presented with a body that is unknown to us, and we notice that this particular individual has bones that haven’t completely grown.
The joints haven’t attached to the shafts of the long bones. The teeth are still coming in. So, we might be able to say, okay this is a teenager, this individual is still growing. If you become very, very ill, so ill that your body starts to shut down, one of the things that will shut down is that growing process. It takes a lot of energy, and it’s going to conserve that energy for fighting off the disease.
And when that growth stops, the teeth will stop growing. If you then get healthy and everything starts back up again, the teeth are going to leave a line where that growth stopped for a period of time.
We can actually measure how far that line is from where your tooth enters the bone and figure out how old you were when you were sick. We can also look at diseases that affect the bones of your body, things like rickets, anemia, scurvy. Rickets will affect the shape of your legs. If you’re a child and you’re walking on these soft bones, it’s a vitamin D deficiency; the bones will start to bow under your body weight. If it’s a child that’s crawling, we’ll see it in the arms, too.
JM: By comparing skeletal remains, Meredith Ellis can study a variety of childhood experiences across a span of historical time periods.